Sweet potatoes are a popular and nutritious root vegetable, loved for their sweet flavour and versatility in cooking. However, sometimes sweet potatoes can develop a condition called “pithiness”, where the inside of the potato becomes dry, fibrous, and unpleasant to eat. This can happen for a variety of reasons, such as improper storage or growing conditions.
While pithy sweet potatoes are not inherently dangerous to eat, they can be unappetising and off-putting. In this article, I’ll explore the safety of eating pithy sweet potatoes and address common concerns about sweet potato quality. I’ll also discuss health considerations around sweet potatoes and offer tips for proper storage and preparation. By the end of this article, you’ll have a better understanding of how to identify safe-to-eat sweet potatoes and how to enjoy them in your meals.
Identifying Safe-to-Eat Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are generally safe to eat when they are fresh and have not undergone any spoilage or damage. Here are some tips on how to identify safe-to-eat sweet potatoes:
- Look for firmness: A good sweet potato should be firm and have a smooth skin. If it feels soft or has wrinkles, it may be spoiling.
- Check for mould: Mould on sweet potatoes can be an indication of spoilage. Look for any black, green, or white spots on the skin and avoid those.
- Examine for holes: Small holes on the skin of sweet potatoes are generally harmless and can be caused by insects. However, if the holes are larger, it could be a sign of rot or spoilage.
- Avoid sponginess: A spongy texture on the inside of the sweet potato is a sign of pithiness, which can make the potato unappetising to eat.
- White specks: White specks on the surface of sweet potatoes are usually just sugar crystals that form when the potato is exposed to air. They are harmless and can be easily brushed off.
It is also important to be aware of the sweet potato virus, which is a plant disease that can affect sweet potatoes. Symptoms include yellowing or mottling of the leaves, stunted growth, and discolouration or deformity of the sweet potato itself. If you suspect that your sweet potatoes have been affected by the virus, it is best to avoid consuming them.
Health Concerns with Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are a nutritious and versatile food, but certain individuals may need to exercise caution when consuming them. Here are some health concerns to consider when consuming sweet potatoes:
- Diabetics: Sweet potatoes are a starchy vegetable that contain natural sugars and can cause blood sugar levels to spike. Therefore, diabetics should monitor their intake of sweet potatoes and consult with a doctor or nutritionist for personalised guidance.
- Digestive Issues: Some individuals may experience digestive discomfort, such as bloating or gas, after consuming sweet potatoes. This could be due to their high fibre content. If you have digestive issues, it may be helpful to eat sweet potatoes in moderation and incorporate them gradually into your diet.
Despite these considerations, sweet potatoes offer numerous health benefits and can be a part of a balanced diet. They are high in fibre, vitamins A and C, and potassium, and are considered a complex carbohydrate. They can help regulate blood sugar levels, boost immune function, and support heart health.
Proper Storage and Preparation of Sweet Potatoes
Proper storage and preparation of sweet potatoes are important to ensure their safety and quality. Here are some guidelines to follow:
Storing Sweet Potatoes:
- In the UK: Sweet potatoes can be stored in a cool, dark, and dry place. A pantry or cupboard works well for this. Avoid storing them in the refrigerator, as the cold temperature can alter their taste and texture.
- In other locations: The same storage guidelines apply, but it’s important to note that sweet potatoes should be kept at a temperature between 55-60°F (12-15°C). If the temperature is too warm, they may sprout or spoil quickly. If it’s too cold, the potatoes will develop a hard core and become less flavourful.
As mentioned, refrigeration can negatively impact the quality of sweet potatoes. It can cause their starches to convert into sugars, making them overly sweet and soggy. To avoid refrigeration, store sweet potatoes in a cool, dark place with good air circulation. Avoid storing them in plastic bags, as this can cause moisture buildup and lead to spoilage.
Preparing Sweet Potatoes:
- Peeling: Sweet potato skin is edible and contains beneficial nutrients. However, some people may prefer to peel them for texture or taste reasons. If you choose to peel sweet potatoes, do so with a vegetable peeler or paring knife.
- Cooking: Sweet potatoes can be boiled, roasted, baked, mashed, or fried. To boil sweet potatoes, add them to a pot of salted water and simmer for 20-30 minutes until tender. To roast or bake sweet potatoes, cut them into even-sized pieces, toss them with oil and seasonings, and bake at 400°F (200°C) for 20-30 minutes until crispy and tender. For mashed sweet potatoes, boil them until tender, drain, and mash with butter, milk, and seasonings.